“Those who saw me managing the cares of royalty with such ease and with such confidence induced me to add the sphere of the earth, and as its motto Nec pluribus impar ((NOT UNEQUAL TO MANY), by which they meant to flatter the ambitions of a young king, in that with all my capacities, I would be just as capable of ruling still other empires as would the sun of illuminating still other worlds with its rays.” Louis XIV in his Memoirs
The Château de Versailles is the embodiment of the monarchical vision of the universe of one person-Louis XIV. The Palace and Gardens are designed and decorated with the ultimate purposes of centralizing and reinforcing the power of the King of France.
Louis XIV became king of France at the age of four in 1643. He ruled France for the next the next 72 years. Although he visited Versailles on hunting trips as a teen, he did not move the government of France to Versailles until 1682. One of the main motivations for Louis XIV moving the French Court from Paris to outside of Paris was safety. As a child, Louis XIV had been forced to pretend he was asleep to avoid the wrath of the mob during the Fronde uprising. That mob had been spurred to action by many regional nobles. Louis XIV therefore forced all nobles and ministers to move to Versailles, and those that did not became irrelevant. Louis XIV established strict guidelines for court life that resulted in incredible social pressures on individuals. Proximity to and favorability with the king determined one’s entire a career. The slightest misstep or snub could ruin one. Louis XIV ruled from Versailles until his death in 1715. His body laid in state in the Mercury Room.
“The civilisation of France in the age of Louis XIV is among the most brilliant that the world has ever known. No civilisation, obviously, can be ascribed to a single man, or even to a single cause; but the fact that France’s two highest points to date coincided with its two most dazzling rulers, Francis I and Louis XIV, surely suggests that there may be some connection: that the effulgence of a great monarch may somehow fertilise and irradiate the genius of his subjects. Louis, who owes his fame exclusively to his position, cannot possibly be accounted a great man; neither, however, can there be any doubt that his force of character, his energy and his unshakeable self-confidence made him a great king. He set his stamp on his country in a way that no monarch had ever done before. In all its history Europe had never seen such majesty, such splendour; nor would it ever be seen again.” John Julius Norwich
The greatness of the Chateau de Versailles comes from the ability of architects and artists to embody French Monarchical political will in building and objects. The architects Louis le Vau and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the artist Charles le Brun, and the landscape architect Andre Le Notre invent new uniquely French ways to glorify and legitimize Louis XIV. They perfect the style named Rococo, which is embodied in Versailles.
When Louis XIV, the most powerful king in Europe, decides to build a royal palace he calls on the greatest Baroque artist of the day, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini has redesigned Roma and the new Basilica Papale di San Pietro. As Louis XIV wanted to be perceived as the Catholic king of Europe, Bernini was the logical choice as the Italian had architecturally embodied the Counter-Reformation. Bernini, however, was not French and gave a hint of cultural condescension to Louis XIV. After making an absolutely exquisite marble portrait of Louis XIV, Bernini was sent back to Italia.
Louis XIV turned to the school he had established Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture.
“This preeminent training organization for painters and sculptors was founded in response to two related concerns: a nationalistic desire to establish a decidedly French artistic tradition, and the need for a large number of well-trained artists to fulfill important commissions for the royal circle. Previous monarchs had imported artists (primarily from Flanders and Italy), to execute major projects. In contrast, King Louis XIV sought to cultivate and support French artists as part of his grander project of self-fashioning, with art playing a vital role in the construction of the royal image.” – Daniella Berman
The chief manner in which Louis XIV is able to make himself divine without appearing sacrilegious is by allegorically portraying himself as deities from the classical era. Throughout Versailles, Louis XIV is portrayed as Apollo, God of Sun and Light, and Mars, God of War.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE DESCRIPTION
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.
UNESCO World Heritage Site description are available for use under CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0 The UNESCO text has edited to focus on content relevant to France study abroad.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE DESCRIPTION – START
The Palace of Versailles was the principal residence of the French kings from the time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI. Embellished by several generations of architects, sculptors, decorators and landscape architects, it provided Europe with a model of the ideal royal residence for over a century.
Located in the Île-de-France region, south-west of Paris, privileged place both of residence and the exercise of power of the French monarchy from Louis XIV to Louis XVI, the Palace and Park of Versailles, built and embellished by several generations of architects, sculptors, painters, ornamentalists and landscape artists, represented for Europe for more than a century, the perfect model of a royal residence. The architectural planning and the majestic composition of the landscape form a close symbiosis, serving as a setting for the magnificence of the interior decorations of the apartments.
The inscribed property includes the zone enclosing the prestigious ensemble of the Palace, the Trianon châteaux and their gardens, as well as a narrow band of land offering the perspective from the extremity of the Grand Canal. It is the result of a century and a half of work commanded by the kings of France and entrusted to its greatest artists.
The strongest imprint has been left by Louis XIV, who started by enlarging the small brick and stone château built by his father, Louis XIII, in 1624. A first addition occurred after 1661 under the direction of Le Vau, in a still strongly italianite style. After 1678, Versailles was once again considerably enlarged and radically modified by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who successfully introduced a sober, colossal, homogenous and majestic architecture, now inseparable from the memory of the Sun King. The famous Galerie des Glaces, between the Salon de la Guerre and that of the Paix, is the masterpiece of the Neo-classical and typically French style, called Louis XIV. The Orangerie and the Grand Trianon are also the work of Mansart, who was assisted by Robert de Cotte in the construction of the Royal Chapel.
The creations at Versailles during the 18th century are among the most perfect and most celebrated works of the Louis XV and Louis XVI styles: the Petit Trianon by Jacques-Ange Gabriel, the decoration of the appartments of Louis XV by Verbeckt and Rousseau, and the appartments and the Hameau of Marie-Antoinette by Mique.
The gardens that complete the Palace, developed during the construction process of the ensemble, were designed by Le Nôtre, creator of the typology of the French-style garden, an open system of axial pathways extending as far as the eye can see and punctuated with flowers and low hedges, flower beds, small streams, large lakes and fountains.
Criterion (i): The ensemble of the Palace and Park of Versailles constitutes a unique artistic realisation, by virtue not only of its size but also of its quality and originality.
Criterion (ii): Versailles exercised great influence throughout Europe from the end of the 17th century to the end of the 18th century. Wren incorporated reminiscences of Versailles into Hampton Court, Schlüter into Berlin, in designing the façades of the Palais Royal. “Little Versailles” have sprung up: Nymphenburg, Schleissheim, Karlsruhe, Würtzbourg, Postdam, Stockholm, etc. Le Nôtre’s gardens, designed by the architect himself, or by his imitators are innumerable: from Windsor to Cassel, to the Granja, Sweden, Denmark and Russia.
Criterion (vi): The absolute seat of power of the monarch, Versailles was the best formulated and best adapted crucible for French court life for a century and a half (Louis XIV perfectioned “etiquette”) and artistic creation in the domain of music, theatre and the decorative arts. Numerous scientific discoveries were presented there, encouraged by the kings, founders of royal academies. It was at Versailles that, on 6 October 1789, the people came to carry off Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, once again shifting the centre of power back to Paris.
The Palace and Park of Versailles lost their function with the Revolution, but the ensemble was conserved by the State and transformed into a museum at the beginning of the 19th century. Although the furniture and the decorations were dispersed or partly destroyed, and the influence of the domain modified by assignments to different bodies, the integrity of Versailles must however be considered as good. The domain was endowed to a public body in 1996. Since then, the transfer of buildings and land has enabled the partial restitution of the coherence of the Palace and Park of Versailles: the most important being the Grand Commun, Grande Écurie (Stables) and the Mortemets, the Midi Wing and the Place d’Armes.
The Revolution and its consequences caused destruction and dispersion at Versailles, while the transformation of the Palace into a museum, in the 19th century, brought about new decorations and new spaces. The authenticity of Versailles is preserved through the policy undertaken, over many decades, of the reconstitution of interior spaces and furnishings.
Protection and management requirements
State-owned, the Palace and Park of Versailles are fully listed under Historic Monuments. Accordingly, they benefit from important conservation and restoration operations under the scientific and technical control of the State that ensures its funding. Since the creation of the public body, the work is programmed in the framework of the master plan. It concerns the restoration of the buildings and plans of the original sites. It also involves the updating of technical installations, in particular accessibility and fire safety regulations.
In the case of Versailles, the protection plan surrounding the historic monument was specially enlarged and adapted to serve as a buffer zone for the World Heritage property.
The “Plaine de Versailles” where the vestiges of the Allée de Villepreux are found, is a listed site under the Environment Code. From there, the Royal Star prolonged the great perspective of the Palace over five kilometres through the king’s hunting forest.A management plan will be prepared in due course by the public body, in liaison with all the stakeholders, taking into account the different protection regimes that apply to the building, its surroundings and the listed site that borders it.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE DESCRIPTION – END
Read about the Château and Gardens of Versailles on the official website
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
UNESCO World Heritage Foundation
Deutsch, Lorant. Métronome : L’histoire de France au rythme du métro parisien. Michel Lafon, 2014.
Gray-Durant, Delia. Blue Guide Paris . Blue Guides, 2015.
Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2004.
King, Ross. The Judgment of Paris. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006.
Norwich, John Julius. A History of France. Grove Atlantic, 2018.
Price, Roger. A Concise History of France (Cambridge Concise Histories). Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Steves, Rick; Smith, Steve; Openshaw, Gene. Rick Steves’ Paris 2014 . Avalon Travel, 2014
EDITOR AND LAST UPDATE
John William Bailly 30 June 2022
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